U.S. District Court Temporarily Blocks Ohio’s Defunding of Planned Parenthood

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May 23, 2016; Seattle Times

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett has blocked Ohio’s health department from restricting funding to Planned Parenthood. The decision suspends—for two weeks—the implementation of a new state law signed by Governor John Kasich earlier this year restricting state funds from going to any organization that performs abortions. The move specifically targeted Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in the state, which would effectively cut off $1.3M of its broader health services, including cancer and HIV testing, health screenings and violence prevention.

Barrett’s decision is a result of one of several legal actions brought by Planned Parenthood to secure their funding after becoming the center of political controversy last year over the release of controversial tapes of former staff allegedly negotiating prices for aborted fetal tissue. The organization is currently the nation’s largest and most well known provider of abortions.

In his 20-page decision, Barrett stated that should the new state law be implemented, Planned Parenthood would be “forced to end health care and education programs and terminate employees, depriving thousands of Ohioans of high-quality, affordable health care services and education programs.” He continued that the organization had proven it could successfully win the lawsuit it brought against the state earlier this month.

Ohio has been a battleground state for Planned Parenthood, joining Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin in an attempt to limit funding to the organization to throttle abortion services. Fourteen other states have made moves to interfere with the organization’s funding and operations. In most states, the cuts haven’t yet been implemented.

In April, Centers for Medical and Medicare Services (CMS), the federal agency providing oversight to the distribution and implementation of Medicaid funding, issued a strong warning to states on the limitation of these healthcare funds. Marisa Padilla, spokeswoman from the federal Health and Human Services department wrote, “CMS is sending a letter to all states to ensure they have a clear understanding of their obligation to follow longstanding Medicaid law guaranteeing that beneficiaries have the right to receive covered services, including family planning services, from any qualified and willing provider of their choice.”

In response to Barrett’s decision, Dan Tierney, spokesman for the office of Ohio’s attorney general, promised that the state “will vigorously defend Ohio’s right to determine how to allocate its public funding as this case proceeds.”

As the battle over Planned Parenthood and abortion funding continues into an election season, we are likely to see more of these state-by-state fights elevated and engaging a federal voice on the funding of women’s health and family planning.—Danielle Holly